*Toy Story 3 (G)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Cinemark 16 IMAX, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
You've got a friend in me," go the lyrics of the Randy Newman tune crooned in Pixar's magical Toy Story films, including the brand-new Toy Story 3. It's a catchy ditty, and it might even trick you into thinking the films are about friendship. But you'd be wrong.
Despite the buddy-action trappings that made it seem like Woody and Buzz were starring in animated versions of 48 Hrs. or Lethal Weapon, the Toy Storys have always been about the emotional Tilt-A-Whirl of love — more specifically, family love. The 1995 original was a tale of sibling rivalry, with Woody (Tom Hanks) learning to make peace with the newest family member — Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) — stealing their owner Andy's attention; 1999's Toy Story 2 pondered the risks and rewards of making personal connections. And now, in yet another triumph of profoundly-felt storytelling, it's time to explore letting go.
Of course, because these guys are too sneaky just to serve up the vegetables of a moral, they wrap it in irresistible cotton candy. The 11 years since Toy Story 2 have passed almost in real time, with a now-17-year-old Andy (John Morris) preparing for college. That's not great news for childhood toys, and due to a mixup, Woody, Buzz and company end up at Sunnyside Day Care.
At first, it seems the gang has lucked out. A Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty), welcomes them to the day care and tells them they've found a home with children. Then, the rampaging toddlers show up — and a plan for escape starts to form.
In typical Pixar style, director Lee Unkrich offers splendidly and inventively choreographed elements of adventure. Woody's dash from captivity is a snappy set piece, and the complex, Great Escape-type plan of those who follow includes hilarious moments such as Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) being forced to attach his features to a floppy tortilla. There are great new characters like a foppish Ken doll (Michael Keaton), and a hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) with serious thespian pretensions.
But this is also a Toy Story with a sense of the passage of time. A generation has grown up with these characters — Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark, replacing the late Jim Varney) — and we might think of them as family. But in Toy Story 3, we also see them thinking of one another as family. When a climactic moment finds them linking hands during a crisis, it's one of the most genuine lump-in-the-throat movie moments since ... well, probably since the last Pixar film.
It might seem that Toy Story 3 is merely riffing on the theme already nailed in Toy Story 2, including a montage that recalls its heartbreaking "When She Loved Me" sequence. In fact, Toy Story 3 is actually taking that concept — the risk and pain inherent in any intimate relationship — to an even more sophisticated level.
As the final 20 minutes play out, screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) spins us through the wrenching landmark moments of saying goodbye, and feeling the ache of transitions.
What continues to astonish about Pixar is its pairing of blissful entertainment with commentary on the experience of being human — and in Toy Story 3, that includes the wonderful, awful, vertiginous experience of sharing a home, a history and a heart.